The Boa Constrictor, or the common boa or the red-tailed boa, is a large, non-poisonous heavy-bodied snake.
It is found in North, Central and South America and on some islands of the Caribbean. It is usually kept and bred in captivity, even as it is commonly exhibited in zoos.
It can flourish in arid semi-desert regions as well as tropical rainforests through their preferred habitat is the rainforest owing to the temperature and humidity.
Besides, there is plenty of natural cover from predators, and prey is also available in plenty. Being capable swimmers, boas can be found in and along rivers and streams. They also occupy burrows of mammals to hide from predators.
A different facet of the boa’s name is that only this species is referred to as a Boa Constrictor even though all boids are constrictors. The boa’s name is unique, as in it is possibly the only animal with the same English and scientific binomial names.
The Boa Constrictor can grow up to 3-13 feet in length. This, however, depends on the region of origin and the prey available. The female boas in this species are larger than males in both length and girth. Mature females grow between 7-10 feet, while males grow between 6-8 feet. In captivity, female boas can exceed a length of over 10 feet.
Large specimens of the boas can weigh up to 27 kg. Female boas can weigh between 10-15 kg while some specimens of these species can weigh up to and over 45 kg.
They have an arrow-shaped head with unique stripes on it. The stripes run from the snout to the back of the head while the others run from snout to eyes and then from eyes to the jaw.
Boas are generally grey, brown, or cream base color with reddish-brown or brown saddles that become prominent in the tails. This coloring is an effective mechanism for camouflage, while there may be some constrictors with pigmentary disorders such as albinism too.
This snake can sense heat via cells in their lips. They have two lungs.
They prey on rodents, lizards, and mammals. They are not always active hunters. They wait for their prey and then attack. It grabs the prey with its teeth and then constricts it before eating. This constriction cuts off the blood flow to the heart and brain, resulting in unconsciousness or death of the prey.
Boas give birth to live young. They breed between April to August, and males mate with multiple females.
This species has considerable economic significance too. They have been harvested for their meat and skin. The skin is used to make shoes, bags and clothing items.
Taking Care of Your Pet Constrictor Boa
Baby constrictors can be caged in glass aquariums. The adult boas need an enclosure that is secure and strong, lest they escape. The enclosure for an adult constrictor should be 6-8 feet long and 2-3 feet wide and as much tall. This will take up a minimum of 10 sq. Ft. of floor place for a single boa.
The cage should be such that it is easy to clean. The temperature in the cage should be on the higher side. Place two ‘hides’ at both ends of the temperature gradient in the enclosure. You may use half logs, cardboard boxes; plastic containers turned upside down with a hole on the side or commercial reptile caves. The hides should be no larger than the snake; else, they will feel insecure.
Heat, Lighting & Temperature
Boas come from tropical regions, and they usually bask in the sunlight. Hence, you will have to provide appropriate lighting and heating in the cage. It is essential to maintain warm temperatures in their cages. The daytime temperature gradient should be between 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide a basking spot of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain a night-time temperature of 78-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a combination of alternatives such as ceramic heating elements, incandescent bulbs, and heating pads to maintain warm to hot temperatures. Cover the bulbs or heating elements to prevent any burns to snakes. Never use hot rocks.
Use paper or paper towels to line the cages of young boas. This also makes it easy to clean them. For cages of adults, use paper or opt for indoor/outdoor carpeting. The good thing about carpeting is that the soiled piece can be replaced with a spare one. The soiled piece can then be cleaned, disinfected, and reused.
A more expensive option is to use a reptile bark.
Avoid using wood shavings as they can cause irritation, or your pet may accidentally ingest it. The shavings may stay lodged in your pet’s intestinal tract.
Boa Constrictors are semi-arboreal when they are young. Provide a sterilized and sturdy tree branch in the enclosure. If you have bought the branch from outside, soak it in a bleach solution. Then rinse it and dry it thoroughly before putting it in the cage. Alternatively, use driftwood brought from the store.
You can maintain appropriate humidity levels by placing a large and sturdy bowl of water and having a heat source nearby. The snake will most likely use the water for bathing too. Clean it regularly as the snake will also defecate in it. Bathing will aid snakes that are shedding.
If you have younger boas, then feed them more frequently. Feed smaller snakes every 5-7 days. If your snake is of intermediate size, then feed them every 10-14 days. Feed adult snakes every 3-4 weeks.
Avoid overfeeding your pet snakes. This often results in obesity.
Feed mice and rabbits to hatchling snakes. Make this one per feeding. They will need this as they grow in size. The diet of an adult Boa Constrictor will comprise a few rats or a rabbit every month.
Remember that a boa’s meal should never be larger than the girth of its widest part. Also, do not handle a boa 24 hours after it has had its meal.
You will notice some unusual behavior of boas in their mealtime. Being shy animals, they may disappear into the hide box with their meal. You can cover their enclosure or leave them alone till they finish their meals.
Behaviour & Temperament
In general, Boa Constrictors are solitary by nature. They only interact with other snakes when they want to mate. Boas strike only when they perceive a threat. Their bite is very painful but seldom is it dangerous to humans. The boas from Central America are more snappy.
When disturbed, they hiss loudly and make repeated strikes. While the boas from South America are more genial. Snakes that are shedding become more defensive. The lubricating substance between the old and new skin makes their eyes turn blue, milky, or opaque, and so they are unable to see well.
Overall, boas bred in captivity are more docile than their wild counterparts. This makes them an exotic pet.